AFRICAN SWINE FEVER NOW IN SOUTHERN MINDANAO

While Filipinos are frantic about the proliferation of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), the Department of Agriculture (DA) announced that the African swine fever (ASF) has already invaded Davao Region, particularly Davao Occidental.

Upon receiving reports “Agriculture Secretary William Dar immediately issued directives to manage, contain and control the disease and stop it from spreading,” said a press statement released by the DA regional office. 

Ronnie Domingo, national director of the Bureau of Animal Industry, instructed the Davao regional veterinary quarantine officers (VQOs) to extend full assistance in restricting animal movement, following the 1-7-10 protocol in affected barangays.

Under the protocol, quarantine checkpoints are set up in areas within a 1-kilometer radius of suspected swine farms.  It limits animal movement and employs mandatory test, aside from killing all infected animals.

Within a 7-kilometer radius, authorities are conducting surveillance activities.  Any movement of animals outside the zone needs the required documents like veterinary health certificates and permits.

Farm owners within the 10-kilometer radius are mandated to report any disease to the agriculture department.  

In order for ASF not to spread further the disease, Domingo urged other regional VQOs in Mindanao to strictly enforce quarantine procedures and monitor animal movement. 

According to the press statement, the ASF was first reported in Don Marcelino.  Immediately, the regional office of DA 11, together with Davao Occidental provincial veterinary office and municipal agriculture office of the said town conducted an investigation on January 29, in eight affected barangays: Linadasan, North Lamidian, South Lamidian, Calian, Mabuhay, Lawa, Nueva Villa and Baluntaya. 

In Malita, the capital of the provinces, seven barangays were also affected with ASF, namely: Bito, Kidalapong, Tubalan, Felis, Mana, Talogoy, and New Argao.

Samples from the 1,000 pigs that died from the town were tested positive for ASF, according to the reports.

The press statement said most of those who are engaged in piggery in these two affected towns are backyard farmers, who practice group rearing (Pagalam system).  Most of the pigs are raised with no proper housing provisions nor biosecurity practices. 

In addition, the backyard swine raisers also don’t practice vaccination, vitamin supplementation and deworming. Household butchering is common especially with animals exhibiting weakness or disease, and animals are sold to neighbors and relatives.

These backyard swine raisers sell their animals through the viajeros, who purchase sick animals at low cost and transport them by motorcycle to consolidators in the nearby town of Santa Maria for distribution to several areas in Davao Del Sur.

A news report released by the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) traced the ASF to the feeding of swill – locally known as lamaw – as one possible source of the spread of the disease.

Davao Regional Director Ricardo Oñate believed the swill may contain processed meat products that had been infected with ASF.  As such, he discouraged hog raisers to feed pigs with lamaw or scraps of household food wastes.

Dr. Karl Pineda, veterinarian of DA 11, was quoted by the PIA report, saying that the hog raisers in Don Marcelino mix feeds and swills for the sustenance of their pigs.

Oñate, however, said the agency is still trying to figure out how the ASF managed to thrive in the affected towns.  

Another assumption is that the virus may come from neighboring countries like Indonesia and China.  This is the reason why the agency is also coordinating with the Philippine Coast Guard.

In Davao City, Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio has issued a ban on transporting live pigs and pork products from Davao Occidental.  Davao del Sur has also been included in the ban because there were unconfirmed reports of ASF case in the said province.

Giapil na nato ang Davao del Sur sa pag-ban sa entry diri sa Davao City sa ilang live hogs and pork and meat products.  Wala nato gihulat ang results sa test ug giapil nato ug ban derecho ang Davao del Sur to protect the hog farmers and industry in Davao City,” Mayor Duterte was quoted as saying by EDGE Davao.   

ASF is caused by a unique virus which is distinct from that of classical swine fever and which infects only domestic and wild pigs and a variety of soft bodied ticks. The virus, endemic in Africa, circulates between warthogs and the soft bodied ticks which inhabit their burrows, according to the website, thepigsite.com. The ticks transmit it through all stages of their life cycle and perpetuate it.

“ASF virus is relatively tough and can survive in the environment and in pig carcasses for a long time,” thepigsite.com states. “Curing and smoking pork products does not destroy it. Its main method of spread from country to country is via waste uncooked pork products fed to pigs.

Unfortunately, there are no vaccines available against ASF nor it can be cured.  “For this reason, it has serious socio-economic consequences in affected countries,” the website of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) warned.

Humans are not susceptible to the disease. “The typical signs of African swine fever are similar to classical swine fever, and the two diseases normally have to be distinguished by laboratory diagnosis,” EFSA explains.

Symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, lack of energy, abortions, internal bleeding, with hemorrhages visible on the ears and flanks. Sudden death may occur. Severe strains of the virus are generally fatal (death occurs within 10 days). Animals infected with mild strains of African swine fever virus may not show typical clinical signs.

ASF is endemic in sub–Saharan Africa. In Europe, it has been endemic in Sardinia for several decades.  In2007, outbreaks occurred in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the European part of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.  Outbreaks of ASF was reported in China at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019.  

The agriculture department has listed the swine industry as one of the biggest contributors to the country’s agricultural growth.  It posted over 16% increase in gross earnings, owing to the increasing demand for pork and production expansion.

The Philippines ranks third to China and Vietnam in terms of pig production in Asia, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.  Other top producers of pigs in the region are Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, India and Malaysia.

Filipinos have been eating pork since time immemorial. “The Philippines, before it was even called the Philippines, has always favored pork,” wrote Gela Velasco, author of an article, The History of Meat in the Philippines: Why Our Markets Carry Chicken, Beef and Pork but Not Horse or Crocodile. 

“Pig meat was often raised as offerings to the gods to curry their favor. Pigs are also considered indigenous to our lands, with the Tagalog word ‘baboy’ also having variations in the Indonesian ‘babi’ and ‘bawi’ in Malayan.  The existence of these similar words in neighboring countries is important because they confirm that pig was a pre-colonial food source in Southeast Asia.” 

A report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said that an average Filipino consumes about 14.2 kilograms of pork (2 kilograms more than the world’s average pork consumption). It is no wonder why pork is the country’s biggest meat import commodity, data from the Bureau of Animal Industry shows.  

“The global trend of increasing free trade has sent fears that imported frozen pork poses a big threat to the local pig industry,” Zoilo M. Lapuz wrote in a feature which appeared in a website, pig333.com.  

There’s money in raising pigs.  “The large number of overseas Filipino workers is a big potential for common Philippine dishes as canned pork products,” Lapuz wrote.  “Importation of pork bellies, however, could remain strong due to the strong urbanized demand for bacon and pork barbeque.” 

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said that from 2016 to2018, the swine industry showed increases. The volume of hog production for the fourth quarter of 2018 was estimated at 662.74 thousand metric tons. This was 2.01% higher compared with the 2017 output of 649.68 thousand metric tons.

The top three hog producing regions during the period were Central Luzon, CALABARZON and Northern Mindanao.  These regions posted increases in production by 4.41%, 3.0% and 3.52%, respectively. The combined production of these three regions accounted for 47.84% of the country’s total hog production.

About 71% of the swine population are raised in backyard farms while 29% are in commercial farms.  In almost every rural household in the country, swine raising is a very popular enterprise, according to Jethro P. Adang, the director of the Davao-based Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) Foundation, Inc.